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The life story of the late Mr Henri Trousselot is one of the most remarkable and romantic ever told. Born 66 years ago in St Hillier’s Jersey, Channel Islands, the son of a clerk, he was constantly being told by his father, what he (the latter) could do when he was such and such an age, and young Trousselot thought that if his father could do these things, he could also. He conceived the idea of going to sea and went aboard a ship, just as it was sailing. He was taken on as 'boy' and when the ship was some time at sea, the whole Greek crew mutinied, murdered the Captain and Officers, but spared the steward because they thought he understood navigation, and would have killed the boy, (the fact being that not the steward but the boy understood 'navigation').
The objective of the crew was Gibraltar, and for Gibraltar during daylight hours young Trousselot steered, but at night he deflected the course towards France. A remarkable fact was that this lad had a practical knowledge of many languages, and he wrote messages and enclosed them in bottles. Some of these in due course were picked up, and then others, and what was first believed to be a hoax was at length taken as real, and a French warship set out for the spot indicated, seized the ship and brought the murderers to justice. Four of the men, the ring-leaders, were hung and others sentenced to long years of imprisonment.
Young Trousselot was the hero of the day and was given innumerable presentations in London where he had 18 months of royal freedom, being feted and feasted everywhere he went. Medals were sent to him by several countries (Legion of Honour from France), and the incident was related in books and papers in many languages.
After this experience, and his stay in London, Mr Trousselot said goodbye to his people, and ventured to New Zealand, arriving in Lyttelton on his 18th birthday. After working at the port for a time, he went to Timaru where he found employment at one of the harbour works then in progress. He had also been employed at Evan’s flourmill at Ohoka.
It was during his five years at Timaru - in 1882 in fact - that the late Mr Trousselot took part in a heroic lifesaving enterprise - the record of which is related annually in that town on May 14th, and which is the subject of a memorial in Sophia Street, bearing not only the names of the heroes who were drowned in the attempt to save their fellowmen, but the list of those who were able to get back to shore alive. At the top, on one face of the square column stands Mr Trousselot’s name.
A fearful storm had arisen, and two vessels, the 'Ben Venue' and 'City of Perth' were carried onto the dashing rocks (just north of Caroline Bay). All day the heroic efforts to bring off the folks from these ships continued, but the sea was so bad that the shore boats capsized one after another, so that instead of it being a question of saving the ships’ crews, it became a matter of the men going out to save their own mates. Mr Trousselot and a party manned what proved to be the last boat to go out. They succeeded and got back to shore with some others, and all had to be dragged up the beach completely exhausted. It had seemed that the rescuers on that boat were going to almost certain death, and each man had given final instructions regarding his estate, and taken final leave of their relations.
Mr Trousselot was not married then but married that year to Miss Whitford whose family belonged to Ohoka. One of his three sons was born in Timaru. Subsequently, they went to Melbourne where Mr Trousselot entered insurance office work, taking service with the Widow’s Fund, and was at his office for nineteen years, and afterwards with the AMP which absorbed the former. Whilst in Melbourne, Mr and Mrs Trousselot were enthusiastic workers in the Methodist Church, both teaching in the Sunday School.
Mr Trousselot was a member of the Victoria Grand Lodge and became a Past Grand Senior Deacon therein. He was a Life Governor of the Victorian Masonic Almshouses for Aged and Poor Masons. It may be added that the Masons of New Zealand gave him a medal in recognition of his organisation and leadership of the rescue work at Timaru.
Upon his retirement from business, Mr Trousselot travelled about for a time overseas and as Mrs Trousselot’s mother was ill at Ohoka, they decided to settle in Kaiapoi to be near her. A keen gardener and a lover of the outdoors, his favourite pastime was line fishing.
Mr Trousselot set an example of citizenship in his retirement, and very soon his services were in demand for public offices. For some years he was a member of the Kaiapoi Borough Council, and as President of the Kaiapoi Beautifying Association, he assisted in carrying out many of the improvements in the borough organised by that Association.
He was always to the fore in bringing welfare to the town. His achievement in obtaining the ornamental seats for the soldiers’ memorial plot and the Rose Garden, as the gift of citizens, will long be remembered.
The eldest son is Fire Superintendent Harry E Trousselot of Hobart, whose war service is well known. The second son, C M Trousselot is the proprietor of a successful engineering business in Melbourne, and the third, E W Trousselot is in the Railways Department in Wanganui.
Extract from the Kaiapoi Record - c. 1926
Mr Henry William Francis Trousselot married Elizabeth Ann Whitford, daughter of Edward Whitford, at Lyttelton 28 December 1882. [Copy of marriage certificate at Kaiapoi Museum.] He is buried in the Kaiapoi Cemetery.